4 out of 4 stars
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A fine medley of magic, native history, revival of lost relationships and a breathtaking journey into the heart of the magnificent Olympic mountains, Strong Heart is an adventure crafted with finesse and passion by writer Charlie Sheldon. The first book of the Strong Heart fictional series, this tale is infused with tints of mystery, glints of mysticism and an unsung legend. The characters are well drawn right from the beginning of the story, leaving the reader with a craving to delve deeper into the nuances of each of the four main personas of the novel.
The story begins at the residence of Tom Olsen who lives alone in Sol Duc in Western Washington. On the eve of a long due, scheduled camping trip of over 30 miles further into the wilderness of the Olympic National State Park, with his Native American friends William (fondly called Walleye) and his daughter Myra, Tom is in a for a not-so-pleasant surprise when his ex-wife Ruth leaves their thirteen-year-old granddaughter Sarah, who he has never met before, to stay with him. Sarah, who likes to draws, appears to be snooty and not the adjusting kind initially. She does not warm up to her grandfather and his friends and is seen cribbing about her stay with both her grandparents. Tom, who has just met Sarah, is reminded of his now dead daughter Becky, due to the uncanny resemblance. Sarah’s sudden appearance aroused memories of the past for Tom- of his late daughter who ran away from home at a young age, of his life back then with ex-wife Ruth. Hence, the story also brings forth a poignant picture where Tom has his own fair share of nostalgic moments throughout the story.
Tom isn’t really keen to take Sarah along for the hike trip knowing that the backpacking journey into rough country would be quite intense and strenuous for Sarah who had just arrived at his place. However, William and Myra convince him to not cancel the trip and take her along with them as he had been planning it since long with a yearning to visit his grandfather’s grave located there. Sarah’s reluctant behavior at his home makes Tom dubious about his final decision to take her along but as they head deeper into the Olympic peninsula, we get to explore many layers of Sarah’s intriguing persona and her bond with Tom which starts anew.
Sheldon does a wonderful job in laying out the details of their hiking trip in the Olympic peninsula-he paints the entire scenery for you, from the rocky trails, the sparkling flowing streams and creeks to the balmy sunlight embellishing the terrain they were treading on. The author uses subtle and serene imagery to describe the place as the tetra team head deeper into the national park: “Thin smoke rose to smudge stars overhead”. I, as a reader, could truly feel my presence there, feeling the warmth of the heat emitted from the burning coals and the soothing sight of the hazy nocturnal sky. That sure is the sign of a good book where the plot is woven so intricately and vividly, that while reading, one can imagine the scene right in front of them as a fine visual.
Their gorgeous hiking trip deep into “the land of magic, history and legend” as described by Myra, through bare twisty branches, blushing rhododendrons, hemlock, fir and spruce is sure to tantalize the senses of the nature lover inside you. However, the detailing and the surplus images at certain points in the first half of the book becomes a tad bit too much, which may lead to a situation where the reader may feel lost and eventually lose interest while reading. I would say that the novel is slowly paced in the beginning but it picks up the pulsing beat in the second half and in no time transcends into a sheer page turner adventure.
There’s a lot to learn from each of the characters- Tom’s patient and determined nature. William, a calm and composed man who goes on rough hiking trips despite being physically weak is an inspiration to many. Myra’s sweet yet firm nature portrays a strong independent woman who is capable of refining the world with her ways and Sarah whose mysterious nature, as I would put it, blends many of the qualities of her character- she’s courageous, curious, empathetic, stubborn and composed. All of these characteristics embodied by one person might sound overwhelming but due credit must be given to the author for sketching a character so convincing and riveting.
I personally enjoyed the bit where Tom gives Sarah, an insight into their family history; about his dear relationship with his late grandfather Bob-Bob who would eagerly take him to hiking trips like the one they had just embarked on. His grandfather knew the peninsula inside out and Tom as a child enjoyed the pleasures of viewing “the secret places, the high tarns, basins, the lost valleys”. I am going with a rating of 4 out of 4 stars as I like the book for the journey it portrays-not only the adventure trip to the mountains but also the heartwarming journey of discovering and nurturing family ties, unraveling hidden secrets and also Sarah’s character development throughout the story which outshines the fact that the novel is slow paced in the beginning. While the mystery bit of the novel is sure to keep you engrossed, the legend and history aspect of the story will also be an interesting read. The writing is as beautiful as the drawings in Sarah’s sketchpad.
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